Ed Driscoll

Minnesota Bloggers Need More Broadband!

Shortly after I moved to Silicon Valley in 1997, I remember seeing billboards encouraging high-tech workers to move from warm sunny Northern California…to cold, blustery Minnesota. As HR Magazine noted in 1999, it was one of several state-run campaigns at the time:

Nebraska, for example, discovered that its former residents were fleeing to warmer climates in Texas, Florida and Arizona, with the greatest percentage settling in California. It made sense, then, for Nebraska Works, a workforce development initiative created by the department of economic development (nebworks.ded.state.ne.us), to hold a career fair in California.

However, campaign creators didn’t think it made sense for them to compete with California’s high-tech Silicon Valley image. Instead, they played up the lifestyle available to workers if they moved to Nebraska.

“Californians are amazed at our state’s housing costs,” says Patty Wood, workforce development supervisor for Nebraska in Lincoln. “We also have the best student-to-teacher ratio in the country, a low crime rate, less traffic, small communities and a slower pace.” She says the state hopes these attributes will attract former Nebraskans and workers looking for a lifestyle change.

It seems to be working. Last fall, Nebraska Works ran stadium ads during an important college football game that draws a lot of out-of-state fans. Approximately 14,000 users visited the web site set up for the campaign and nearly 800 people requested job applications and Nebraska living packets.

Wood’s department also piggybacked onto Nebraska’s nationwide “Genuine Nebraska” tourism campaign by creating links from the tourism web page to “Work, Play and Stay” pages that itemize Nebraska’s cost of living and quality of life. In the future, Nebraska Works would like to target military personnel affected by base closures, as well as to continue its job fairs and targeted advertising.

“We’d also like to create workshops on ‘best practices’ in recruitment and retention to deliver [to employers] across the state,” says Wood. “These workshops should be ready by the fall of 1999 or early in 2000. Retention is a huge part of this, not just recruitment.”

Minnesota’s campaign, “Come Home to Minnesota,” also targets former residents, particularly among professional and technical job seekers. “Our ‘Minnesota Living’ brochure, which describes the quality of life, education, outdoor and recreational opportunities and the like, should trigger memories from former residents,” says Gary Fields, deputy commissioner of the state’s department of trade and economic development in St. Paul.

Evidently, it was a success, as Minnesota’s broadband is now straining under the weight of it use:

Internet speeds in more than four-fifths of Minnesota are too slow to support technologies that could draw new jobs, take cars off the roads and bring new services to people in their homes, a new report said Friday.

The Minnesota Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force is calling for minimum Internet speeds of 10 megabits per second for the entire state by 2015, setting a standard 15 times faster than the current federal definition of broadband.

By that measure, 83 percent of the state needs an upgrade.

The group’s report describes broadband as “an economic and social necessity for all citizens of the state no matter where they are located.” It says faster Internet could enable everything from more telecommuting for workers to telemedicine linking patients and doctors through two-way high-definition video.

“It’s an important economic tool as we try to attract and retain the best companies here so we can have good jobs,” said Rick King, chief technology officer at Thomson Reuters Legal and the task force’s chairman.

King presented the report during a hearing before two legislative panels, where lawmakers said slow Internet service is a drag on the state’s economy. They hope Minnesota will compete successfully for federal stimulus grants to expand broadband in rural areas.

“It’s time to start thinking of broadband as a baseline utility accessible to every Minnesota home and business,” said Sen. John Doll, a Democrat from Burnsville.

Based on the number of great bloggers in the region (Fraters Libertas, James Lileks, Ed Morrissey, and two-thirds of the Power Line guys come immediately to mind), I thought it already was!